One year after FBI raid on Palm Springs City Hall, elected leaders make changes and stress transparency

City scandalized by corruption probe; leaders await results of FBI and DA investigations

PALM SPRINGS, Calif. - September 1st, 2015 is a day that will be remembered as one of the worst days in the history of the city of Palm Springs.

Federal agents and county investigators raided city hall.

The city was left scandalized by the corruption probe.

It is a day city leaders would rather forget.

"I really feel that it has put a cloud over our city, that is an undeserved cloud," said city council member Ginny Foat, while recalling the event.

Outrage and calls for transparency in the days following the raid created a perfect climate for political newcomer Robert Moon to win the race for mayor last November.

He easily defeated longtime council member Foat, who was a close ally to former Mayor Steve Pougnet.

Pougnet appeared to be heading toward a third term as mayor, before he became engulfed in the controversy over his financial ties to developer Richard Meaney.

During Moon's campaign, he stressed "transparency", and says it remains a theme for him and the rest of the council as they look to get the city back on track.

"I just felt there could be greater levels of transparency and integrity in city hall, and that is what i wanted to run for, and when the raid happened, that just endorsed what i had felt from the beginning," said Moon.

While the results of the probes by the FBI and the district attorney's office are not yet known, Mayor Moon says he and the council are already taking steps to restore public trust and confidence in the way the city conducts business.

"I'm looking forward to the results of the investigation coming out, so we can know what happened, and we can do some more adjustments where needed, because we don't know what they are going to find," said Moon.

Foat says she too is among those looking forward to investigators finishing their work.

Last March, before questions began swirling around Pougnet and his ties to Meaney, Foat had a private breakfast meeting with the two men to discuss the what was called the "Aberdeen Project", proposed for a parcel next to the convention center.

Foat says she hasn't spoken with Pougnet since he left office, and says she is ready to move on.

"It is really important to us as a city that the FBI move forward with something, close the case, indict someone, do whatever it is that has to happen so that we can get rid of this cloud.  We are a wonderful city," said Foat.

Perhaps the most significant change made by the city council since the raid, is the formation of a special committee made up of more than 50 citizen volunteers, tasked with advising the council on a range of issues, including campaign finance reform and policies regarding conflicts of interest.

Their recommendations will be presented later this month.

Council Member Geoff Kors, also a political newcomer, is spear heading the effort.

"We've had over 50 volunteers, residents, who've been working in 8 working groups for six months, who are going to come out with dozens of recommendations," said Kors.

Another change is the council has directed the city to hire an in-house city attorney to replace Doug Holland, who works for the city on a contract basis.

The council also reviewed the job performance of City Manager Ready, who remains in the position.

Since the raid, Ready says he has made it a requirement for city owned land to be appraised before its sold, which is not required under state law.

He also says he wants to the city to do a better job of using social media to keep the public informed.   

"First and foremost, of critical importance, everything in government is public.  There is nothing that is private, everything is public.  I think the real issue becomes access to that information, and how do citizens understand where they can find it," said Ready.

CBS Local 2 called the phone number on file in the newsroom to reach Steve Pougent for comment, but it appears the phone is not currently in use.

The executive assistant for Mayor Moon told us she forwarded our interview request to Pougnet, but he has not responded to our invitation.

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